The Wisdom of Leaving the Reservation to Stage a Protest.
Among the many slurs about my people is one about “going off the reservation,” that has gotten some attention lately. The saying makes reference to infamous Native American warriors of days gone by, like Geronimo, who repeatedly broke-out and “left the reservation.” At that time, reservations were like stockyards, where Indians were confined against their will and fed and housed like cattle. But restless natives got in big trouble when they left the reservation and quit playing by all the one-sided, white-imposed rules. The saying has now become demeaning slang for going renegade, breaking the rules, coloring outside the lines, or turning against the established order – which in many quarters is considered to be a really bad thing – no matter what it is.
Most of the time Native Americans are simply ignored — out-of-sight, out-of-mind — with tribes relegated to reservations across the country, as wards of the state, treated as minor children, who can’t govern or think for themselves, with the federal government as an ever-protective nanny. But all that changed for a minute this past week in North Dakota.
The Dakota Access Pipeline protest has created a little bit of temporary attention for Native Americans. I want to thank all the celebrities and fair weather friends who rallied to the cause. Was it because you really care about native people, or something else, perhaps the notoriety joining the cause might give you?
One of the problems with this particular protest is that it is too little, way too late. I am passing no judgment on the general idea of transporting oil from the Bakken oil field to Illinois, as long as water can be protected, but once pipeline construction started and the players involved have spent that many millions to get to the river, that’s a lot of momentum to try to stop or redirect at this stage of the game. Unfortunately, in the end, they will roll right over the top of Native American interests and concerns, just like they always have, while the special Federal nanny turns a blind eye and looks the other way, based on clear conflicts of interest.
Comparing the Standing Rock protests to the Oregon Standoff, I’ve learned some important lessons. I’m always trying to learn something from other people’s mistakes, and I’ve learned a few things from the missteps of the cowboys in the Oregon Standoff. So I want to make some observations, and offer some real practical advice to anyone who is going to participate in protests.
The first lesson is: Always leave the reservation to protest. I’m so proud of my Native brothers and sisters for being smarter about this than the cowboys in Oregon. Why? Because Bundys said they went out to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, because it was isolated and out of the way. Despite whatever other practical sense that might seem to make, it was stupid, really stupid. Why? Because they went to a federal facility, when they should have stayed in Burns, where all the action was. If they were going to occupy something, they should have taken over the Harney County Courthouse, or the city park, instead of an outhouse or a hunting blind at the Refuge, or anything that could be characterized as a “federal building.” Why? Because anything federal is so special that you’re going to be in deep, deep do-do for coloring outside the lines there.
Don’t you get it? Because the federal government is so special, a federal crime is a serious matter. There’s a reason for the saying about “making a federal case out of it.” Anything federal is at least 10 times more serious and 10 times more special. If Bundys had taken over the county courthouse, they would have only had Sheriff Ward and his posse to deal with. In a worse case scenario they might spend a couple years in the pokey, but when they chose a federal refuge instead, they face the wrath of the United States Government, and may be facing at least 20 years, after fighting a court case against a literal army of federal lawyers. Rumor has it that the DOJ has allocated over a hundred million dollars for prosecution of these cases. A simple cost/benefit analysis would show that messing with the Feds is not a good way to go — if for no other reason than the fact the federal government considers itself to be so special. Having lots of money tends to make people feel special. Can you think of anyone with more money than the federal government? No wonder they’re so special.
And the Feds don’t even make any bones about it. Think about it. They call all their agents “Special Agents.” Here in Oregon, we’ve got extra-Special Agent Greg Bretzing. I’m originally from Nevada, where Special Agent Dan Love had the special privilege of exclusively terrorizing folks in Nevada and Utah until he got a promotion to broaden his reign of terror.
And what about federal investigations – special investigations? They are most special when it’s federal investigators “investigating” federal actions. Those kind of investigations are so special they can go on forever. They never end. How special is that?
To help illustrate the point, if you point a gun at a state LEO, and you’ve got an otherwise clean record, you may be able to cut a deal for a year in jail. But if it’s a special agent federal LEO, even a “federal contractor,” the best you can hope for is a minimum of 10 years (more if it’s Special Agent Love or Bretzing). Federal officers are just that special. Ten times more special everybody else. And some are even more special than others. But Feds of any stripe are considered to have 10 times more human value than anyone else — especially natives. And at this point the Feds seem to view both cowboys and Indians to be the lowest form of humanity on the North American Continent. But if they point their guns at you, and even shoot, possibly even kill, they are so special they get to lie about it, cover it up, and treat it as business as usual. Don’t ask; don’t tell. Shoot, shovel, and shut-up. They’re that special.
Next piece of advice: For hell sake, even for symbolic purposes, I recommend leaving guns out of it — especially if it has anything to do with the federal government. How stupid can it be to arm-up to invade a federal facility? You really think you can win a shoot-out? As Indians, one thing we learned long ago, and over and over again, is that you can’t win in a shoot-out with the United States Government. You will always be outmanned, outgunned, out-witted, and definitely out-spent. You just can’t compete. Ask Geronimo, the Dann Sisters, and plenty more. Just in terms of resources, would you rather go up against the United States Government, or an outfit like Harney County? No brainer.
Don’t you get it? The Feds want you to live in fear. They want you to be completely intimidated. They don’t want you to ask questions. They don’t understand symbolism. They have no sense of humor. They have no respect. They don’t understand irony. Doing anything to challenge their authority is the epitome of stupidity. They love guns, but only the ones they’re packin’ to keep everyone else “safe,” in line, and on the straight and narrow. They hate it when anyone else has guns, and are looking for any special reason to make it an issue. So they have all kinds of firearms enhancements, to really stick it to anyone who might have a gun. These are all lessons learned from our own experiences, as Native Americans — over the past 200 years.
It doesn’t matter if firearms are used for a completely legitimate purpose — like hunting — even on the reservation. In the circles I turn in, we have a joke about the possibility of getting caught shooting deer or elk (or even a cottontail rabbit or a duck, for that matter) “out of season.”. The joke goes something like this: “If you poach a deer and a game warden pulls up, you just as well shoot him too, because you’ll do less time for that than you will for killing a deer out of season . . . unless the game warden is some kind of federal officer, and then you’re in deep, deep do-do. . . . at that point you just as well shoot yourself.”
Since I’m not condoning even the symbolic bearing of arms in protest (the literal, historical epitome of “going off the reservation”), I certainly don’t recommend doing anything that might be interpreted as “using” weapons of any kind in a protest. I don’t even recommend gesturing with a weapon of any kind in their general direction. But if you do make gestures of any kind toward anyone (even a clenched fist, or flipping the bird), make sure they have nothing to do with the federal government. Why? Because they are so special. Still not getting it? If there are two game wardens, and one belongs to the state, and the other is a Fed, your SOL man. Simply “smarting off” to a Fed is considered resisting federal authority. That’s some extra serious stuff man. If you mess with a state cop, you might be looking at a couple years in the pokey, at most, but if you mess with a Fed, you’re looking at a minimum of 10 years. They’re that special.
Federal officers are more special than everyone else. Federal agencies are more special. And federal laws are more special too. They’re all just plain special. It’s not rocket science. They are special because in this country the federal government is God. And don’t forget it.
So, if you do participate in any kind of protest, avoid “federal” property. Avoid federal officers. Leave all weapons of any kind at home. Direct any and all words, actions and gestures toward state and locals, who may still be living and operating somewhere in proximity of planet earth, and treated accordingly, versus the feds, who live and operate in La-la land, somewhere really special, light-years away, out in the stratosphere, completely disconnected and out of touch with reality. Why?
Com’ on people. Really? Haven’t you been watching LONGMIRE? Get off the reservation, and away from the federal nanny, and deal with some real people — like Walt Longmire!. Unfortunately, it is true that more unarmed Native Americans are shot and killed by state and local law enforcement than any other racial demographic, but at least state and local cops aren’t pretending to be special when they do it. If you had to be killed by God or a bunch of hacks, wouldn’t you rather deal with the hacks? Isn’t isolated killings better than systematic genocide?
So, if you do go to any kind of protest, make sure it’s not under “federal” jurisdiction of any kind (unfortunately, I don’t know where that is, because they claim jurisdiction of one kind or another everywhere on the face of this planet). Avoid contact with federal “officers.” If there are both state and federal officers, direct all action and any possible aggression towards the state officers. And otherwise, always have second thoughts about taking the risk of exercising what some consider to be unalienable rights. In the battle of words, “special” always seems to trump “inalienable.” That has always been the native experience in this country for over 200 years.
If you follow this advice, you’ll wisely be playing it safe on the side of the lesser of two evils, and hopefully you’ll save yourself a whole bunch of special grief.
NOTE: “Off the Reservation” is a regular feature by Redtail Rose, who is well-known for her wicked wit and biting satire, so please consider all possibilities before going “federal” on her. Rose’s column is called “Off the Reservation” because in her writing she sometimes enjoys coloring outside the lines.
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